Icing on the Cake – Idiom, Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

You can’t speak or write in English without at least knowing what idioms are. They add so much depth and color to our language; some even consider idioms integral to the English language. “Icing on the cake” is one that’s super common, so let’s take a look at its true meaning, where it came from, and how you can use it in a sentence!

Icing on the Cake Idiom Meaning Explained

Icing on the Cake Idiom Origin Meaning

As an idiom, we use the phrase “icing on the cake” when we want to describe an extra benefit to something. However, it can also be used in a negative way with sarcastic undertones to imply we’re not pleased with an unexpected outcome of something.

  • Positive: The book came signed by the author. That’s just icing on the cake!
  • Negative: The book is late and came with a torn cover page. Well, isn’t that just the icing on the cake?

Origin of Icing on the Cake

Like a lot of English idioms, “icing on the cake” comes from literal roots, where it was used back in the 1600s to describe frosting a cake, aka to ice a cake. It involved covering a baked good with frosting, cream, or embellishments. It wasn’t until sometime in the 20th century that it took on a figurative meaning.

Does Icing on the Cake Have a Negative Meaning?

I touched on this above, but let’s go into detail. Yes, “icing on the cake” can be used with a negative connotation, usually when we’re already dealing with bad news or an unpleasant situation and something else happens to just make things worse. That unexpected addition is the “icing on the cake,” with the “cake” being the bad situation you were already dealing with.

Alternative to “Icing on the Cake”

Here are a few synonyms you can use in place of the phrase “icing on the cake.”

  • Cherry on top
  • Feather in one’s cap
  • Bonus
  • Added perk
  • Extra touch
  • Isn’t this just perfect
  • Finishing touch
  • Gravy

Icing on the Cake Examples in a Sentence

Icing on the Cake Idiom Origin Meaning 1

Time for some context! Let’s look at this phrase in a complete sentence to show you how to use it correctly.

  • Sure, winning the soccer game was great, but my son scoring the final goal was the icing on the cake for the team captain.
  • The Taylor Swift concert was fantastic, and the surprise guest appearance was just the icing on the cake for the evening.
  • Getting the job with my favorite design firm was a dream come true, but the generous benefits package and vacation days were the icing on the cake.
  • The trip to Mexico was already perfect, but the beautiful sunset on our last evening was the icing on the cake that I’d never forget.
  • My husband’s 40th birthday party was a success, but the icing on the cake was the unexpected fireworks his friends pulled off at the end of the night.

But no — Twenty One Pilots seem to be the kind of band for whom hits are just icing on the cake. (The Edmonton Journal)

Good Grammar Is the Icing on the Cake!

So, there you have all the details you need to understand and use the idiomatic phrase “icing on the cake.” Remember that it can be used both positively and negatively, but it’s mostly reserved for positive connotations.